Local Food is Joelle's Job Description

You know she's serious about local food, with the title "Local Initiatives and Procurement Coordinator" at DC Central Kitchen.  Since DCCK is one of our best organizational partners, and since Joelle Johnson is their amazing leader of the local food movement here in DC, we decided to learn a bit more about what she does...

Joelle, what is your role at DC Central Kitchen?
Mainly I am responsible for sourcing and procuring locally grown products for all of our programs – nearly 10,000 meals a day. Most of what I purchase goes into to the meals we provide for DC Public Schools. But a good portion of it also goes into the meals we send out to local shelters and into the food we prepare for catering events every week. I aim to purchase from family owned farms that use sustainable growing practices, working with them on crop planning and setting fair prices. Last year we spent nearly $115,000 on local products.

Joelle gleaning for produce!
In addition to procuring local food, I also manage two programs - Truck Farm and Healthy Corners. Truck Farm (in partnership with the USDA People’s Garden) is a mobile educational farm planted in the bed of a pick -up truck designed to bring a rural experience to urban students. DCCK uses Truck Farm as a tool to enhance the summer-enrichment programs that we provide meals for through our already established Healthy Returns program.

Healthy Corners is a pilot program that began in the fall of 2011. Healthy Corners works with corner store owners in low-income DC neighborhoods, considered to be food deserts, supplying them with fresh, healthy foods. Currently we are working with 30 stores in wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 supplying 15 different types of fresh produce and healthy snacks.

What might a typical day look like?

I spend most of my days jumping back and forth between meetings with community partners and giving tours to visiting groups to taking product inventory, data tracking and placing orders. Some of our farmers really love to chat so that can take a surprising amount of my time! (I get really excited when I find a farmer who prefers email!) But generally summers are spent placing orders, scheduling pick-ups and taking inventory, whereas winters are spent visiting farms, compiling program reports, and attending conferences.

Joelle doing Truck Farm activities with students
What is the most inspiring part of your job?
The best part about my job is positive feedback. Sometimes it comes from farmers who tell me that they appreciate our business because we pay fair prices and that we have helped them reduce their product waste or expand their operation. Sometimes it comes from customers who thank us for bringing Healthy Corners to their neighborhood so they don’t have to travel so far to find fresh produce. Other times it comes from seeing kids’ faces light up when they harvest and eat a cucumber from the truck or hold a worm that they dug out of the soil. My job is pretty fun!

If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
Well, I’d like be something sweet like a strawberry or blueberry because everyone loves those things, but I’d probably end up being something that is cheap, fits the nutritional guidelines for DC public schools and is easy to source in bulk quantity like butternut squash….only because I appreciate the convenience of produce that fits all 3 categories!

What's your favorite winter veggie dish?
Shiitake mushroom bacon!

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